Richard G. Fessler appointed chief of neurosurgery

September 20, 2002

Richard G. Fessler, M.D., Ph.D., a leading authority on minimally invasive spine surgery, a pioneer in microendoscopic surgery and the first physician in the United States to perform a human embryonic spinal cord transplant, has been appointed professor and section chief of neurosurgery at the University of Chicago, effective September 2.

Fessler comes to the University from the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and NeuroResearch, where he was founder and director of the Institute for Spine Care, and from Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, where he was a professor of neurological surgery.

"We are immensely pleased to welcome Richard back and to have such a capable surgeon and talented researcher to head our neurosurgical program," said Bruce Gewertz, M.D., chairman of surgery at the University of Chicago. "Dr. Fessler combines extraordinary clinical skills with a deep knowledge of the biology of the nervous system and a penchant for surgical innovation."

A board-certified neurosurgeon who is routinely listed in the various "Best Doctor" publications, Fessler has developed several new microendoscopic and endoscopic surgical techniques including cervical microendoscopic discectomy and microendoscopic decompression of lumbar stenosis. He has a particular interest in transplantation of nerve tissue or cells and is considered one of the leading authorities on innovative methods to repair spinal cord injuries.

On July 11, 1997, Fessler's team at the University of Florida performed the first nerve tissue transplant, using cells derived from fetal spinal cords to try to repair a spinal cord injury. His Florida team performed eight of these procedures, demonstrating that the operation was feasible and safe. One of the patients has improved significantly since the operation.

Fessler graduated in 1983 with honors from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and earned a doctoral degree in pharmacology & physiology, also at the University. He completed his residency training in neurological surgery at the University of Chicago Hospitals in 1989.

Fessler then joined the staff of the University of Florida Brain Institute where he cared for patients and gained international recognition as a physician and research scientist. He quickly rose though the ranks to become the Dunspaugh-Dalton Professor of Brain and Spinal Surgery in 1994 and director of the Institute's Surgical Research and Training Laboratory and the University of Florida Spine Care Center. He moved to the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and NeuroResearch, and Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in 2000.

Fessler has written more than 60 peer-reviewed research papers, more than 50 book chapters, and six books, including the Atlas of Neurosurgical Techniques, Lumbar Interbody Fusion, and Percutaneous Spine Techniques. He serves on the editorial boards for the journals Neurosurgery and Neuro-Orthopedics. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the North American Spine Society and is an ex-officio member of the American Association of Neurological Surgery Board of Directors. He is also a medical specialist and flight surgeon for NASA.

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